I understand if I were on a Mac that would actually look real and be easy to do, but you know what? My ipod is a piece of crap, itunes is infuriatingly proprietary and makes me upgrade to a thousand features I won't use every few months, and their ads are smug in a way that rubs me wrong. So despite the fact I think identifying with macs OR PCs is a little loopy, I'm not rushing out and buying a Mac just so I can type diacritics. So there. Take that.
Oh, that's right. This is supposed to be about opera. Conveniently, I've just been to see the shockingly undersold revival of Jenufa at the Metrupulitan. Fuck, again that would only work with diacritics.
We're talking only-one-section-sold-out undersold. Big red stripes of velvet visible in prime orch. And this is odd considering Jenufa is from its first note to its last, operatic perfection. Now, I know. Aesthetics are subjective, no matter how many classes you took at Yale. No matter how much I hate it, The Piano is never going to be objectively a bad movie. But I can't shake the feeling, listening to it all these years, in a studio apartment with no furniture in Texas or a car driving between Ann Arbor and Detroit or half asleep with a fever in Brooklyn, that it is this chunk of Janacek's unconscious mind, where all art springs from (well not all art from his, but stick with me) lifted out into the light, without the translation that waters down most creative acts. The fun thing, as Jonathan pointed out, is that because it is thus, and because it's also in some way forbidding, the crowd you get is really invested in it. J says, in fact, and I'm wondering if he might post about this, that at intermission, you hear solitary opera fans, in line for a scotch, humming little hidden semi-melodies from the opera.
Like maybe Laca's confession to the foreman that he loves Jenufa, which is the first place in the evening my heart stopped. Yes, it is almost stupid how many good tenors the 'politan (oh, just for variety) has on its roster. A year ago, I casually told someone there were ten tenors singing there I'd be happy to hear any night, and when challenged, I rattled them off without too much thought. Some of them are duplicates in a sense--I'd love to hear Beczala again in Rigoletto. Or Villazon--and some have a niche. Jorma Silvasti is just a little bit special, I think. It's not just the fast vibrato, either. It's...what that you say? Shut up and tell you whether Silja sank or swam? Well, alright then. (But Silvasti, really. I'm telling you.)
Reactions were mixed when Silja was announced for this revival. Deborah Polaski, for one thing, was extremely "on" last time around, and though her voice is worn, she is not 400 years old like certain other people. Some ten years ago, when she was 390 but to be polite everyone was saying 389, Silja sang Act II with Roberta Alexander and the Philadelphia Orchestra at I think Carnegie, and it was (as termed by Dawn Fatale at intermission) "decrepit diva heaven." An unqualified success. Last night was not a succes d'estime. It was a triumph d'estime. You had to take it for what it was, and ignore the hollowness in the middle that made Auntie K's Act I parade-raining a largely visual affair. And yes, on those terms, Silja delivers 100% of the time, but this is opera and that ain't enough.
Perhaps she was husbanding her resources, and there are no rules against that. Act II was art without compromise. Squally? Of course. But she didn't duck a note or clip one short, and somehow she earned each wobble. That, taken with the fact that she's been singing the role since long before it was written, and taken with her exquisitely strange face, put it over in a way I'm pretty sure won't come across on Sirius. God knows it didn't on the Glyndebourne recording where the only thing that saved her from disgrace was Jerry Hadley, by comparison. But in the house, it was exactly right. There are other singers I'd like to hear have a go at it, and I'm looking forward to Forst and then to Malfitano in DC, but in the moment, she lacked nothing. There's no reason to record it. It was ephemeral, but beautiful. Ugly-beautiful.
You know what the thing that really cracks me up about Jenufa is? This production, I mean (since obviously the fun never stops in Preissova's bubbly comedy)? All the clothes on the floor. I'm not sure what it's supposed to represent, unless Oliver Tambosi is commenting on how I keep my apartment.* For that matter, I'm not sure about the big boulder either, but I don't object to it. It's a very, very pretty production and you'd have to be kind of a killjoy to begrudge it its inscrutable imagery. Who could fail to reach for a sweater when the house opens up to reveal the snow in Act II? Actually one thing that truly was funny: one line of the translation has the Kostenlicka telling Jenufa how much better it would all be if god would "take the child off your hands." Doesn't that sound kind of like they're at a swap meet or something? What IS a swap meet anyway? I've never known. But I'm certain that's how they talk there. Can I take that baby off your hands? I've got this swell rosemary plant filled with worms. I think they say "swell" a lot at swap meets, too.
Raymond Very was, oh Heather, so very. Which is to say Steva isn't the great role Laca is but he acquitted himself quite nicely, and can now change his name to Raymond Nicely. Barbara Dever got a pretty enthusiastic ovation, and why shouldn't she? On the merits of volume alone, she was topped only by...
Karita Mattila. Who is in bigger voice every time I hear her, especially Up There. That should be read with a suggestive lear, like the southern euphemism "Down There." I have a silly fantasy she could leapfrog certain other singers and be the next big deal dramatic after all, so solid has her voice become in every octave. I don't think it'll really happen, but if it does, you heard it prophesied here. Bear in mind she was on for Turandot for a while, then ditched it. For now, her brand of tightly wound sonic neurosis works very well indeed in Jenufa. I'm still holding out for Ariadne, but that's not going to stop me from going to most of the Jenufy. (Why do Czech conductors only do Janacek operas in the genitive pural? Because several are Jenuf. That used to be a joke about French chefs and eggs, and was the better for it.)
The conducting, eh, was not for me much of the time. Things were muted that I didn't want muted, especially in Act I. The ending, from "Odesli..." was happily luminescent, however.
(Oh and there was one little white slip I was hoping to see in the program, though I'm not sure whether the subject of that tiny piece of literature would have wanted to be there anyhow.)
*For the mental health mavens out there, this particular delusion is known as "Ideas of Reference." Which is also the name of one of my imaginary bands, in which I play gamelan flute and waterphone. My other imaginary band is called Bad Breast. Our lyrics are taken from the writings of Melanie Klein.